THERE was something missing in the eyes. He’d gotten the look of them essentially right, but the gaze was still lacking some element he couldn’t quite put his finger on.
The pencil sketch of the man, inelegantly taped to the wall above his desk, had become his favorite place for his eyes to linger. He didn’t suppose a Japanese man in the nineteenth century—even a samurai warlord—would be that tall, but something had made him draw the white silk kimono as though it draped beautifully down long legs. The clean lines of the kimono mimicked the smooth strands of raven hair flowing down below the daimyo’s shoulders, accentuated by the knotted tail at the top of the head towards the back. The warlord held his curved samurai sword in an odd one-handed grip, horizontally across the front of his body.
The face was classically Japanese with high cheekbones, dark, slanted eyes, and pale porcelain skin like a mask. The man was perhaps thirty years old, and the look in his eye was that of a born leader.
Michael rubbed his eyes tiredly, turning back to his textbook on the late-Edo period in Japan and trying to find where he’d stopped reading. Finals began in three days, and in the midst of studying, filing the necessary forms to graduate, and everything else, he’d been having unexplained dizzy spells; one moment he’d be fine, and the next would find him leaning against the nearest wall or solid piece of furniture. After a few moments of closed eyes and deep breathing, it would go away.
Stress-induced vertigo, Ellen would say. Get out and ride a bike; go for a walk in Tilden Park. Stop living in your head. She was a civil engineering major and a black belt in karate, equally qualified to build a bridge or kick your head in. He wasn’t sure if he had eventually bored her into stopping the sexual part of their relationship, or what else, exactly, had gone wrong. Ellen was less emotional than he was and had never told him. The name “Nakamura” was still under “Holden” on his mailbox downstairs, and she still had the key to the apartment. Let’s just be friends for a while and see what happens, she’d said on her way out the door.
He stared up at the sketch again. For an Asian studies major, he supposed it wasn’t actually odd to dream about a samurai warlord, although he would’ve felt more comfortable if he’d dreamt about geishas instead.
Michael blinked. Where had that thought come from?
He needed a break.
He went to the bathroom and bent over at the sink to wash his face. Grabbing the hand towel, he dried himself off and looked in the mirror.
His eyes were bloodshot and his face overall was looking a bit haggard. Finals would be over soon, and he could sleep then.
Until then, however, his schedule sucked.
Michael closed his eyes, then opened them once more to really look at himself.
His light brown hair had gotten shaggy; he needed a haircut. His blue eyes and even features stared back at him in the mirror. Ellen hadn’t been the first girl who’d told him he was attractive, but he still couldn’t see it himself. The looks he got from girls, the hints they dropped around him, the invitations to social functions and hiking clubs and other coed group activities had always left him cold.
It wasn’t that he disliked the young women who invited him to these things, with their eyes hopefully gazing up at him. He just didn’t feel any real pull toward any of them.
That he wasn’t sure what he was going to do next in his life added to his sense of being unsettled. His circumstances allowed him to do whatever he wanted without thinking about money. Ironically, that left him more indecisive than ever.
He could take a year off, travel to Japan and around Asia, then maybe apply to grad school. His grades were good enough to get into the better universities. Maybe he’d try the East Coast schools. He’d always lived in California. Perhaps a change of scenery would help….
To be perfectly honest, he had no idea what he was supposed to do next.
He returned to his bedroom and to his desk, resolving to get down to his studies again.
Suddenly the dizziness was back, and he was glad he was sitting down. Closing his eyes, he rubbed his temples briefly and then lowered his head to the book, resting his forehead on the open pages.
Just a few moments… and it should pass….
THE first thing he noticed was the smell of wet earth.
He could feel that he was lying on his back, which didn’t make any sense because he’d been sitting at his desk. Even stranger, his clothes felt damp.
Michael turned on his side and cautiously opened his eyes.
He was in a field of tall grasses, lying in a patch of mud. It was broad daylight. The soft sound of gently moving water pooling around rocks and trickling downstream reached his ears.
The bright sun hurt his eyes, and he shut them, thinking, She was right. Now I’m seeing and hearing things.
But how is it that I’m feeling things?
He opened his eyes again and half-raised himself to look around. Slowly, he got to his feet.
He was standing in the middle of a valley that was bounded by mountains on three sides. The stream he heard was to his right, which he somehow knew was east, although he couldn’t say how. To the west he saw something he’d only read about: water-drenched fields of rice… with people wearing triangle straw hats… like out of a… a….
This can’t be real.
One of the peasants turned in his direction, and Michael hurriedly crouched down in the tall grasses. The mud squelched unpleasantly beneath him, and his pants and shirt were sticking to him.
A small copse of trees stood upstream in the distance. He moved cautiously through the grasses until he could hide under the tree closest to the stream and pulled off his shirt.
This is just a very real-seeming dream. It was nighttime, I was studying, I fell asleep at my desk, and my imagination has taken me to historical Japan. Very funny—hysterical, really. How did this mud get into my pants?
He took off his shoes and socks, pants, and finally his briefs, and then tested the stream with his hand. The water was cold, but not agonizingly so. He threw water over his arms, shoulders, and neck. Shouldn’t cold water wake a person up?
He rinsed the rest of his body, the water bracing him. Finally he dashed water on his face, thinking, This should do it. Wake up, already!
A little prickly feeling on the back of his neck made him turn around.
He’d seen illustrations of samurais, photographs even. Once Commodore Perry had arrived to open Japan in 1853, all manner of western goods and technology had flooded into the previously closed society, including daguerreotype cameras. But seeing pictures of samurais and seeing a group of them standing ten feet away from you were two different things.
They were dressed in kataginu, the sleeveless, open-sided vests, and hakama, the divided skirt-like pants worn by late-Edo period samurais. They were of different heights, none as tall as himself, though what they lacked in height they more than made up for in sheer ferocity of appearance. Their hair was long and tied in a variety of topknots on top of the head, and they carried the traditional two swords, one long and one short. He stared at them, and they stared at him. “Gaijin,” one said in amazement.
Michael opened his mouth to say something. “Shit,” he finally managed.
The samurai leader—a fiery small man—glared at him. “Toratte!” he barked to the others. In a heartbeat they were on him, and a large blanket appearing out of nowhere was thrown over his head and body. “Shirohnee tsurete kite!”
Now it’s for real.
MICHAEL couldn’t see or hear anything under the blanket. He sensed that he was being walked down a street and there were people and buildings on either side of him. If he had heard the leader right and he was being taken to a castle, this probably meant he was being walked down the main street of the castle town. He tried to envision the scene outside his blanketed world: farmers, merchants, traders, horse carts, foodstuffs and goods for sale. And all of them staring at the naked man under the blanket being hustled along by the daimyo’s men.
He nearly stumbled as they came to a set of stairs, the samurais half-dragging, half-yanking him up until he found his feet.
At the top of the steps he heard heavy doors being opened, and he was pushed into the front entryway of the castle. Rough voices said things he couldn’t make out, and then he was being shoved onto another set of stairs, this time going down.
Finally they entered a room, and the blanket was whipped off. Michael blinked. Two samurais got his arms behind him, and he was held fast.
The leader of the men slowly walked up to him. Michael felt himself being gripped tighter by the men behind him.
He was about three inches shorter than Michael, making him perhaps five feet seven, and he had most of his long black hair coiled into a seamless topknot. He had a bushy mustache, and his small, beady eyes fixed on Michael with personal malevolence, as though Michael had stolen something precious from him.
The leader unsheathed his sword, drawing it out slowly, giving Michael time to watch and think about it as the silver blade glinted in the sunlight slanting in from the small high window.
He placed the tip of the blade beneath Michael’s chin. Michael stood completely still. “Doko kara kimashitaka.”
Where do you come from. Michael thought quickly. Should I answer him in Japanese or in English? Would he understand where California is? Should I say nothing at all? He stared at the man, his thoughts a jumble and with no clear answer.
Taking Michael’s silence as a challenge, the man slapped him across the face. “Gaijin,” he spat. He nodded at the other samurais, and Michael felt himself being taken down to the floor. Terror overtook him, and he struggled as first his wrists were bound in front of him and then his ankles were bound.
“Toru,” someone called.
Michael saw the leader—Toru—turn and go to the doorway and speak to someone just outside in the hall as hands kept Michael down.
He tried to look, but his face was held fast against the floor. Panting, he tried not to panic as he heard footsteps approach.
Abruptly he was pulled up to his knees. He lifted his head, but a hand shoved it down, forcing his chin to his chest and leaving him staring at the floor. He heard the other samurais leave the room.
A lone set of soft footfalls approached, almost silently. Michael’s knees ached on the wooden floor, and he felt cold for the first time, kneeling naked with his ankles and wrists bound. The one saving grace was that his wrists were bound in front of his body, allowing him to cover his privates with his hands.
He kept his eyes downcast as the man came closer, and the feeling of complete unreality was back, like in the muddy field. The man stopped a few feet in front of him. Silence filled the room as the man regarded Michael, and Michael waited.
Finally he heard a voice say, “Ohmohteoh ahgehroh,” and he looked up.
It was the samurai warlord he had drawn in his sketch—the one from his dream.
HE LOOKED very tall—given that Michael was kneeling at his feet—and he wore a light-colored raw silk kosode, a loose-flowing garment banded with an obi-style tie at the waist. The hair was as Michael had drawn it, the long black strands gracefully splaying about the warlord’s shoulders and down his back with a loosely coiled topknot from which a few tendrils had escaped. The face was even more striking than he had captured. The eyes in particular were beautiful, with an inquisitive, lively spark in their black depths, and he had flawless skin on a narrowly drawn face. He was an exceptionally handsome man, beautiful even.
The daimyo stared hard at Michael, almost as if recognizing him as someone he knew or had known. He seemed startled for a moment and turned away. The sight of his profile made Michael forget to breathe: the regal upswept hair and aquiline profile made him look like a nobleman of ancient times.
He was the most perfect man Michael had ever seen.
He looked to be around thirty years of age, as in Michael’s dream, and as he turned back, Michael realized he was staring and quickly looked down again. He watched the warlord’s feet—wearing tabi, those odd toed socks favored by the Japanese—pace back and forth in front of him.
“Onamae wa nan desu ka? Dochira kara era shiemashitika?”
Michael took a deep breath. “Holden Michael desu. Watashi wa America kara kimashita.”
The man stopped in his tracks and stared at him. “What did you say?” he asked in Japanese.
Michael repeated his name and where he was from.
“How is it that you speak Japanese?” The daimyo stared at him as though he were from outer space.
“I—I study it.” He wetted his lips nervously.
The warlord stared at him for a long moment. “You are my prisoner now,” he said calmly. “I do not know who sent you, but you will never see them again.”
“I’m here on my own. I’m not a spy, and I wasn’t sent by anybody. Sama,” Michael added, hoping to appease him by addressing him as “Lord.”
The warlord walked over to where Michael’s muddied clothes lay on the floor, leaning down to pick them up. Michael’s eyes traced the long line of the warlord’s back as he bent over, the long black hair spilling over his shoulder.
Frowning, the warlord straightened up and examined Michael’s blue button-down shirt and jeans, taking the wallet from the jeans and opening it.
Michael watched as the warlord stared at his driver’s license, thumb caressing the plastic curiously, and then his student I.D. card. The warlord’s face was a study as he took out the paper money, fingering the twenty-dollar and one-dollar bills with a bemused expression on his face.
The daimyo set the items down and walked over to Michael. “Who are you?” he asked. “I don’t understand any of this.” His simple, honest statement made Michael feel an odd kinship with him. “Sama, I don’t understand either. I… woke up and found myself here….”
All speech left him as the warlord stopped in front of him, staring down at him with an unreadable expression. It was a moment suspended in time, the daimyo standing above and himself kneeling below, gazing up at this man who held him in his complete power. His mouth went dry.
Michael blinked, and his eyes met the daimyo’s, confused. The two men stared at one another for a moment. Then the warlord’s eyes unexpectedly softened. Abruptly, he turned and walked out of the room. Michael felt himself breathe again.
He heard a low conversation, too low to pick out words, in the hallway just outside the room. Then Toru reappeared, striding over to Michael and crouching down beside him, efficiently removing his bonds. “You will remain in this room at all times,” the warlord’s second said. “You will not leave this room unaccompanied. You will do as you are commanded, and instantly. A woman will see to your needs.”
He left the room, and Michael sat on the floor, feeling his wrists. Presently a young woman entered the room, carrying clothing and other items. In the Japanese traditional manner, she opened the sliding shoji door while still seated on the hallway floor, then set the items on the floor inside the room. She then moved into the room, still on the floor, and shut the shoji door. Michael remembered he was naked and drew his legs towards his body, but the woman kept her eyes averted, as if used to carefully not seeing what she wasn’t supposed to see.
She placed a folded yukata near him for him to wear and bowed her head in his general direction before rising and exiting the room in the same manner as she had entered it before.
SHE set about preparing miso soup, but in her mind she kept seeing a young man looking scared and alone, seated on a tatami mat and trying to hide himself from her. A gaijin, with light brown hair spilling over his face and big blue eyes. She got a fleeting impression of broad shoulders on an otherwise slender frame and long, coltish legs. She wondered if all gaijins were this attractive; certainly this one didn’t fit the description of the “foreign devils” they were all warned about.
A handsome young male, even a gaijin, might deflect some of Lord Shinjaro’s attentions away from her for a time. Misako permitted herself a small smile as she chopped green onions. But in the end, you’ll still be here, she thought, and her smile faded.
AN EVENING meal of some kind of fish, rice with nori seaweed, and miso soup was brought to Michael, along with a futon and blankets. The young woman moved in and out of the room silently with the items, and Michael tried not to stare at her. She even removed the pot that had been left for his toilet, leaving the room and returning with it cleaned and functional again, with a small damp towel hanging from its rim. He felt his face grow warm, but the woman did not look in his direction.
SOMEHOW he slept through the night and did not dream.
In the morning he lay on the thin futon, staring up at the wooden-planked ceiling. If this had been a dream….
If this had been a dream, he would’ve woken up in his own bed, or at his desk in his Northside Berkeley apartment with books scattered about his head.
If this had been a dream, he wouldn’t be feeling the rough cottony texture of the futon beneath his naked skin or the soft morning sunlight on his neck streaming in from the single high, small window in the cell.
In some bizarre way, somehow, he was really here in samurai-era Japan, the apparent prisoner of a warlord he’d seen in a dream and then drawn a sketch of. Michael closed his eyes and pulled the blanket over his hips. His thoughts went around and around in his mind, but nothing made sense.
A sixth sense alerted him to a presence in the doorway. The door had been opened silently, and Toru stood staring at him. “Prepare yourself to meet with Shinjaro-sama.” Then he was gone.
Shinjaro. At least now he had a name….
THE warlord was seated on the floor, wearing the same light-colored kosode as the day before, and did not look up as Michael was led in.
A hand on his shoulder pushed him down to the floor. The warlord was sitting cross-legged. Michael arranged himself in the traditional seiza position: knees together, resting his behind on his heels. It was uncomfortable almost immediately, but this was the position that showed respect; he hoped the warlord would recognize that the gaijin was aware of this and had chosen it deliberately. He smoothed the ends of his yukata over his knees, folded his hands and laid them in his lap, lowered his eyes, and waited.
He felt Toru leave the room behind him, probably in response to a nod from the warlord. He kept his gaze downward until the warlord said, “You may look at me.”
Michael raised his eyes. Lord Shinjaro was seated five feet away, gazing at him intently.
“I see that you are still here.”
Michael blinked, and the corners of the warlord’s mouth quirked. “I had thought that perhaps you were an apparition, that you would disappear sometime during the night.” Michael opened his mouth but found he had nothing to say.
“You are like a bird, dropped in from the sky. Our borders are watched. No one saw you cross them.” His face showed genuine curiosity. “Tell me who you are.”
The daimyo’s sense of presence was overwhelming; he radiated authority and charisma, though the latter was controlled, like a banked fire.
Michael took a deep breath. “Sama,” he began. “I am a student of Asian studies at a university in America. I live in a place called Berkeley, near San Francisco, California.”
“California…. Is that where people found the gold?”
The warlord’s look of mild interest distracted Michael. “What…? Oh.” Sutter’s Mill—the great Gold Rush of 1848. So this must be sometime after that year. “Yes. Yes, my lord. But that was a long time ago.” He stopped suddenly. That was a slip. Seeing the curious look in the warlord’s eye, he hurriedly continued. “I was studying at my desk late one night and fell asleep. When I woke up, I was here.”
He hesitated. “There’s something else, sama. I had a dream in which… I saw you.”
The daimyo stared at him.
Michael rushed on. “You were standing, holding your long sword across your body, looking at me. I couldn’t forget your image—I even drew a sketch of you.”
“So I appeared to you in a dream,” Lord Shinjaro said. “Interesting. Perhaps we were destined to meet.” His eyes flicked to Michael’s primly set-together knees, as if noticing his seiza position for the first time. “Please make yourself comfortable.” He patted his own knees, referring to his cross-legged position, and Michael understood.
He arranged his legs to sit cross-legged, flipping the ends of his yukata to cover his privates. The warlord coughed and put a hand over his mouth. Michael looked at him curiously before remembering himself and dropping his eyes.
“My name is Shinjaro Kaminishi. The han that you find yourself in has been my family’s responsibility to lead for almost two hundred years.” “Han” meant domain or region, Michael remembered.
His limpid gaze captivated Michael. “We are an old and traditional han, not particularly influential these days as most commerce now takes place in Edo.” A small wry smile graced the warlord’s beautiful features. “We are west of Kyoto. The people who live here are farmers and the merchants who support them. We are at peace with our neighbors—well, perhaps all but one.” He said the last with a slight grimace.
“Shinjaro-sama—if I may inquire—what year is it?”
The daimyo blinked. “It is Ka’ei 4.”
Michael quickly calculated in his mind. 1851. Two years before Perry and the black ships.
“I believe in your part of the world the year is known as 1851, ne?”
“There are so many things I would like to know about your country,” the warlord said. “We are fortunate in some ways here in Japan to be on our own, as a people and as a nation. But I cannot help but wonder if we are missing valuable experiences by looking solely to ourselves.”
His look was wistful, and Michael heard himself say, “It will not always be so, sama.” The Meiji era would open Japan to the world within years; the daimyo would be a middle-aged man when that happened and would live to see it.
He looked up to find the daimyo staring at him. Uh-oh. Probably shouldn’t have said that…. “Do you know this for a fact, gaijin?” Shinjaro-sama was saying. Fortunately, he looked more amused than serious.
“No, sama. It’s just something that I believe.”
The warlord’s face was expressionless for a moment; then he permitted himself a small smile. “So. You dreamed about me… you came from America but don’t know how you got here… and you appear to be from a future era.”
Shinjaro-sama’s countenance grew stern. “I can read Western numerals, gaijin.” He held up the wrinkled currency from Michael’s wallet. “These notes are dated 2009.”
Michael stared at the bills, then swallowed nervously. “Yes. You are correct, sama. The last thing I remember was that it was June of the year 2010, by the Western calendar.” The daimyo’s face remained impassive, and Michael hurriedly added, “I was… reluctant to tell you that I was from the future. It is already difficult to accept that I would be here from the America of this time period; to say that I was from the year 2010 as well… well, I was afraid you might think I was completely insane.”
The daimyo blinked, and Michael slowly felt himself breathe again. “This is… highly unusual,” Shinjaro-sama finally said. He turned his face away for a moment, and Michael waited, watching the fine profile in repose, deep in thought.
A look of realization came into the warlord’s eyes. “So, you are from the future. This is interesting.”
Michael didn’t think he’d like what was coming next.
“Perhaps you can tell me what will become of my country, then.”
“I’m sorry, sama. I don’t know what you—”
“I think you understand me, gaijin. Tell me the future of Japan.” The warlord’s tone brooked no argument.
Michael took a deep breath. “No.”
The daimyo blinked. “Nanda to?”
“No one should know what will happen in the future. It’s… not right.” Michael closed his eyes.
I am so dead.
Lord Shinjaro stared for a moment, and then, unexpectedly, he laughed. He sounded much younger when he laughed, Michael found himself thinking bemusedly.
“Very well, gaijin,” the daimyo said politely. “There will be time enough for that. We will talk again.”